Thursday, April 5, 2012

No. 27

The morning we arrived in Bangalore Raj drove us to get money exchanged and to Dad's barber. On the way he told us what was going on with his family and with his daughter, Rebecca, in particular.

Becca had been short-listed - out of over 800 applicants - in Frank Anthony's Junior School admission process. There were 55 seats available. The first preference would go to siblings of existing students, so that really left about 30 seats free for new students. And Becca had made the first cut; now she was up against 154 other shortlisters.

Becca is four years old. Getting into a good school in India is imperative because education is your only ticket out when you are not born into the upper middle class. Everyone in the family feels the pressure, including the four-year-old.

We had to travel quite a bit this time; each time Raj drove us to the airport he would say earnestly, "Please pray for Becca's situation, Uncle ..."

The school goes into a cone of silence after the short list is released. There is to be no solicitation for information or favours. It does not accept bribes or incentives, a time-honoured aid to admission in many institutions here. What the hopeful families are told is that the list will be posted in the school compound on such and such a date at 2 p.m. sharp. They can come and check the list at that time to see if their child has gained a seat. No phone calls please.

The date this year was Monday, March 26. And as things worked out, Dad, Deb and I would be in Bangalore that day. Dad had his last haircut scheduled for ... 2 pm.

You're going to read soon about the tea parties we had with our kids this trip. All the kids wanted a tea party and Deb and I were happy to oblige (as you can imagine!). But Becca had never asked for a tea party. She was content to be invited to one of them and she loved the whole experience. We decided that Becca needed her own tea party. And it was going to be scheduled for Tuesday, March 27. It would be in the nature of either a celebration or a consolation.

Let me tell you a bit about Becca. She's a tiny imp of a girl, bright and beautiful and engaging. You can't help but love her. Her mother is the newly appointed head of a little Montessori kindergarten and preschool; her father pretty much sees to the practical workings of the campus. But despite their busy lives and their financial situation, her parents have invested deeply in their precious daughter's life. Becca is always dressed in clean, sweet clothes; and she has impeccable manners for a child her age. She says the proper pleases and thank yous; she never pushes herself forward; she can speak intelligently and thoughtfully; she adores both her Papa and her Mama; and she has a tender heart. One day we exclaimed to her, "Becca, your Papa is the best cook we know!" and she immediately responded, "And my Mama is too!" She is sensitive beyond her years and has learnt not to make demands of her parents, knowing that they might not be able to fulfil them.

And now she was bearing the weight of this school application. She too was praying that she would get in.

One day at the beginning of our stay she wasn't feeling all that well, so Deb told her mother to let her come spend the morning with us up in our room. She lay down for a while and then was coaxed into writing and drawing by a promise of sparkly nail polish being applied to all twenty digits. She drank some Limca and after that it was a short step to "clicking" on the camera and Deb's iPhone. She started telling stories and was concerned about Grandpa, who was dozing in the next room.
Writing a story
Nail polish!

Showing Grandpa her pictures
Grandpa clicking the two of them

Playing Itsy Bitsy Spider
with Auntie Kaybee ...

Checking out the laptop

Discovering the magic that
is Pop Rocks candy ...

"Auntie Kaybee, who did your hair?"
(with evident displeasure, tucking the tendrils
around Debs' face behind her ears)
She couldn't say Auntie Karyn so I suggested she call me Auntie K. The next thing we knew, Debs had become Auntie Kaybee. From this day on, Becca became Auntie Kaybee's girl and would search her out in church, and when we were in our rooms she would pop up to say hi.

On the Sunday night, March 25, Raj was visibly distressed. We were invited out for dinner with the charming Richie and Katherine and their children; Raj could hardly eat. As he dropped us off, he begged quietly, "Sister, please remember Becca in your prayer tonight ..."

On Monday morning Raj brought us our usual tea and Dad's hot lemon. He looked awful; he told us he had not slept at all the night before. 

"God is in control," Dad encouraged him.

"If she doesn't get in, where will you put her?" I asked curiously; and I immediately wished I could have bitten out my tongue as he looked anguished, stricken.

Later Debs told me that if she didn't get in, Becca would probably end up going to a small, local school with unqualified teachers and little or no chance for academic success. Any other good schools were far beyond Raj's and Arenla's price range; Frank Anthony itself was going to be too much for them but at least they could try to work something out.

The day crawled by. I went with my adopted niece Chloe to check on a book; and I decided to pick up some books, school supplies and a little pair of pink bookends for Becca, either for congratulations or for consolation. 

Finally it was just before 2 pm and Debs and I were getting ready to walk with Dad to his barber. Raj said he would drive him on his motorbike; Debs and I would walk to the place and meet Dad there. 
On our way we had to pass Frank Anthony. Right as we reached the first gate, the clock showed 2 pm. We looked at each other. "Should we?" we asked. We decided that we had to know. The guard at the gate sent us down to the next gate. As we approached we saw a little crowd gathered in front of a couple of easels holding signs. We looked at each other again and knew we had to go in. 

As we pushed open the gate and stepped inside, someone rushed over to us. "She made it! She's on the list!" Arenla breathed, her face wreathed in smiles, holding her daughter in her arms. And then she dialled Raj's cell phone; she had been waiting and the list had been posted precisely at 2 pm.

"Make sure! She's number 27!!" Arenla urged us after talking with Raj, so we worked our way to the front of the group:
Sure enough, there was our girl, No. 27, the seventh child chosen after the brothers and sisters had been given seats ...

At that moment Raj arrived. He was beside himself with joy. He peered at the notice board and then picked up his little girl and hugged her like he would never let her go. (The lead picture is the two of them, with the school in the background.)
With Mama ...
... and with Auntie Kaybee

There were many people who came to examine the board while we hung about, not wanting to leave and break the spell. Some people stared for long moments at the different pages and then turned around and quietly walked away, their faces empty.

But one man caught our eye. He was a Hindu with fresh red markings on his forehead, indicating that he had been praying recently. He checked the notice board; then he withdrew and called someone on his cell phone; then he went and checked the notice board again. This happened several times (he is actually standing in the background of the picture of people reading names, above - on his cell phone, of course!). We walked over to him and asked him if his child had got a place. As if we needed to ask; his beaming face told the whole story. He shook our hands vigorously. "This is a very lucky thing," he explained to us. "This is a very good school. So many people want their children to come here. Only God could have got my child admission to here."

We read the procedure that was expected to be followed in order to complete the admissions process, and Arenla asked if I would click the rules so that she could have them for later on:

The admission fee seemed so steep for our friends. It totals about Rs. 45,000; this number does not include tuition, school supplies, text books, uniforms, all those other little expenses that a person simply forgets about until she's there in the thick of it.

Raj and Arenla between them make about Rs. 10,000 per month, plus their little apartment and utilities. There are about Rs. 50 to our dollar right now. The admission fee alone is four and a half months' salary.

So the next day they went, as commanded by the notice, to acknowledge and officially register their little No. 27. In the meeting, Raj asked if there were any allowances made for hardship or if the admission fee could be broken down into payments.

"NO - can't you read?" screeched the woman at him ...

... And now you know why it is so very important for Becca's Papa that his girl gets into a good school. Raj - one of the smartest men I know, with the ability to speak ten languages fluently and with amazing mechanical, electrical, culinary, driving, organizational and communication skills - never really had a true opportunity to go to school. As he approaches his fortieth birthday he feels that it is too late for him; but he wants more for his daughter. He, perhaps more than most, realizes the priceless value of a good education. And he will do whatever he can to secure this opportunity for her.

Tuesday morning, March 27, saw Dad, Debs and I heading out to breakfast at Woodlands with Mr Subbaiah, a little tradition we celebrate each time we come back to India. After breakfast Debs and I decided that Becca needed her own tea set, so we shot down to Commercial Street and Debs bought a little china tea pot and six beautiful cups and saucers. We had brought a brand new tea cozy with us from the TH, so that was going to go to our little girl too. We got home to find she had finished her school for the morning and was just coming to look for us. Raj had made tea for us, so we filled up the tea pot, got out lemon tarts and curd and pulled out the magic carpet that makes all tea parties the stuff of fairy tales. Debs gave Princess Becca a new blue dress to wear for her tea party and I quickly washed the cups and saucers.

Becca took to hostessing like a duck to water. She set out cups and saucers, poured tea and organized where everyone would sit. But before we started to partake she said grace. In her beautiful, earnest little voice she thanked God with great sincerity for her Mama and Papa, for Grandpa and Auntie Kaybee and Auntie K, for getting her into her new school, for her very own tea set; and she thanked Him for her tea party.

 Debs dished up the curds; but Becca poured the tea and served everything to us. Each time she looked at her little tea pot or her pretty dress or her cup and saucer, she would say, "Aww, so cute!"

Then after tea she sang us one of her favourite songs: "Read your Bible, pray every day and you'll grow, grow, grow ..."

Right before it was time for her to leave, we gave her the books and the school supplies. She was very excited, as was her mother. "So cute!" she said again as she examined the dictionary, five little story books and the magic markers and pencil crayons and sketch book.

She thanked us profusely and told us she was going to have a tea party with her Papa when he came home after lunch.

That evening, at around 6 pm, came a little knock on our door; there stood Becca's mum, holding three thank-you cards that Becca had made for us out of some of the paper in the sketch book we had given her. "It was her idea - all I did was help her with the spelling. She wanted to thank you," Arenla told us.

How can one's heart not melt when confronted by a child like Becca? How can one not want the best for her in every area?

Please keep Raj and Arenla in your thoughts and prayers as they attempt to come up with the initial Admission fee (thankfully, a one-time thing). It amounts to about a thousand dollars and is due on Friday, April 13, between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Rules are rules, after all, and there can be no deviation from the instruction sheet ... 

Pray for them as they seek to raise this treasured daughter to be the best person she can be.

And pray for our Rebecca as she takes this enormous step in her little life. She will need courage and diligence and wisdom. She will need encouragement and discipline and guidance.

One thing we know she will never lack, our little No. 27, is love. That she has in abundance.


  1. Well you sure had by rapt attention. An amazing story, for sure. What a beautiful child, inside and out. She is so dear and so fortunate to have you all in her life. God bless you so much.


  2. just lovely to read. "PTL!"

  3. Can other people help pay her tuition? I was thinking that maybe we could send over some money like we did for the bunk beds. I know there isn't much time, but if 10 of us contributed $100, it wouldn't be that much. I'll have to check with Scott, but I think we could send $100.

  4. Oh my goodness! What a beautiful post ... and family! Thank you!

  5. In response to Meleah's question, as well as to a couple of you who have contacted me off line, my Dad is determined that Becca's fees are going to be met. So any contributions you would like to make would be gratefully received! Anyone can contact me off line at, or call me at 403.443.7547, and I'll get back to you. We can wire the money out to the College to reach them in time.

    And wait for an update post on the bunkbeds - it's pretty happy! I have pictures too ...

    Thanks, my RtLers, for your compassion for these less fortunate kids.

  6. Beautiful K!
    Little Rebecca is true to her name 'captivating' and 'loyal'. You have captured the essence of her and her lovely parents.

    Missing that magic carpet and tiny tea parties! You make everything beautiful and memorable no matter the location.


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